Friday, November 13, 2015

Toldot, a Mother's perspective

I've been reading the Torah portions again.  I'm so happy when I do that.  It's not always easy, and I definitely don't do it as much as I like.  With everything else going on it's hard sometimes to give myself the space and time I need to commit to reading and enjoying and exploring the Torah portion.

This week's portion is Toldot.  When most people read Toldot they focus on the relationship between Esau and Jacob.  Of course I understand why, the bulk of the Torah portion is about them and there is much to learn about the differences between Esau and Jacob, as well as how their parents respond to them.

But this week what struck me more than anything else were the first few sentences:

"And Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived."

My interest is in the many different views of this sentence.

The New International Version:
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.

The JPS Tanak Version:
Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived

In my mind the ideas behind these different version can be quite stark.  The idea that Isaac prayed opposite his wife shows a firm and true commitment.  An understanding of the joint anguish a couple can feel at not becoming pregnant.

It took my mother over seven years to become pregnant.  It wasn't an easy journey for her, or for my family.  In that time, however, I think that my father viewed it as more of my mother's problem.  I might be wrong, but that's my intuition based upon the conversations I had with my mother before she passed.

I have several friends who are currently pregnant and it's often difficult to see the transition from wife to mother in the girl, and yet a lack of transition from husband to father in the man.  He's not quite but sort of a father.  But the moment that she knows there is another life inside of her the wife and woman has become a mother.  Her choices aren't her own- from lunch to dinner to sleep and emotions.

So when I saw it Toldot that Isaac prayed opposite Rebecca it seemed amazing.  That together they took the mantle of becoming a family upon them both.  Then, unfortunately, it gets sad. 

the Lord accepted his prayer and Rebecca his wife conceived.

It seems incredible that G-d would accept his prayer and not hers.  I choose to believe in the positive side of the discussion.  That for many years Rebecca had been anguished and wanting a child.  Then when two became one and prayed opposite each other to G-d, declaring seperately and together that they wanted to make a family, then G-d answered.

I know to many women, to many families struggling to make the family they always envisioned.  If this is a testament to them at all, read inside the story that standing together as a couple, as future parents might make all things possible.

How do you read Toldot this week?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hugging or Not?

I've blogged about this before, that a child has a right to decide if they want to physically interact with another person, be they child, adult or grandparent, but reading this article about a what a hug did inside of a church brought a whole additional piece to the puzzle.

In the story a child complained about an adult volunteer hugging her.  She told her mother, who spoke with the pastor and then the pastor spoke to the volunteer.  The next time the child encountered the volunteer, however, the adult forced another hug and a 'pinky-swear' not to tell mommy.  Luckily this child told her mother.  The church moved forward with an official notice to the Department of Social Services and all heck broke loose.

I am a firm believer that my child does not have to physically interact with another person she does not want to.  I am also a firm believer in being polite.  Not touching someone does not mean we don't say hello, make eye contact or otherwise engage in meaningful interchange.  But there is a line we cross when we engage with another person physically.

There are lots of arguments for and against the hugging controversy.  Yup, that's right, I called it a controversy.  Like we don't have enough on our plates that we are judging other people for whether their child shows the 'right' kind of affection the 'right way'?

From a Jewish perspective it's all a matter of Leviticus 18:6 through 18:19.  This torah portion is the direct start of the idea of Negiah or not touching between men and women.  Specifically Leviticus says:

"No man shall come near to any of his close relatives, to uncover [their] nakedness. I am the Lord."

It's interesting to note that it says 'come near' not just nakedness.  This shows us that there is, in fact, a proper level of removal between family members of a certain age. We do not follow Negiah, but it's interesting that the idea of not coming in close contact is very readily written and codified in Jewish law for us to fall back on.  This separation is even true during birth and labor, and interestingly enough when one of the partners in a marriage is observing Shiva.  One of these days I'm going to enlighten the world as to the gift of shiva to a grieving person...

Back to the topic at hand.  If you read those articles, you might have noticed some people complaining about how this is ruining their apologies too.  We already know how I feel about forced apologies.  The idea that you are ending your forced apology with a forced 'hug it out' scenario is just so incredible to me that I don't even know where to start. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not raising your children.  If you have a policy inside your home that your children hug it out when they apologize, good for you.  That's just not for me or my children.  So don't try to force your ideals onto my children either at the park of the classroom or the synagogue.

Of course the thing that I think is most startling about the article is that they seemed to entirely skip over the part where the volunteer adult told the child to 'pinky-swear' that they wouldn't tell their parents.  Red flag anyone?  Let's not even get started on secrets...this post is already getting to long.

Here's a cute hug to leave you with...because despite this post, I really do love Hugging!

All photos by Laura Layera, LuluPhoto

Monday, October 12, 2015

Attending a Bris

I often get questions about what to do when you attend a bris at someone's house.  For a lot of parents who may be interfaith or not overly religious the idea of a bris can be a bit scary- a medical procedure inside someone's home.  To cover the highlights a bris is when a Jewish son is circumcised, or when the foreskin of the penis is removed.  It is usually customary to formally name the child at this time, which can be the very first time the child is named, or the giving of a Hebrew name in addition to a secular one.  So here are a few tips to make your first bris the celebration it's meant to be.

1.  Bring along a gift of some kind.  No this isn't a requirement, but just like a birthday party or another event at someoen's home it's customary to bring a small gift to the baby boy.  This could be something as simple as  card with a check for $18 (chai) or a small stuffed animal.  I'm a huge fan of this onesie, which celebrates the naming of the child, rather than focusing on the religious aspect of the circumcision.


2. Be prepared to stay for a while.   The process for a bris can range from 15 minutes to several hours.  A lot depends on the arrival of the Mohel and how the baby is doing.  There's usually some nosh, so grab a plate and plan to stick around for quite a bit. And on that note, be prepared to pitch in to help.  These people just had a baby, and they are hosting something akin to a party.  Help them out by taking care of something like the trash, the dishes, or just hiding their dirty socks under the couch.

3.  Don't expect to hold the baby.  This is not only a religious ritual, but it's also the first 8 days of baby's life.  Do use hand sanitizer whenever it seems you might get a chance, but don't be upset if mamma wants to keep the baby near her.  It can be traumatic for moms to hear their baby boys crying, so don't be concerned if she holds him close, and then when it's over usher's him back to his room for some quite time and/or nursing.

4. CELEBRATE.  It can seem a bit weird to shout Mazel Tov over the cries of a baby, or seeing the tears staining the new moms' eyes, but people who hold brises and invite people to share this moment are doing so because this is a great simcha.  It's a moment when they are declaring their dedication to Judaism, welcoming their son into the community of Jews and celebrating that he's come into this world.  So remember to raise a toast, speak kind and exciting words, and celebrate the joyous occasion.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Learning a True Apology for Yom Kippur

One of my goals for EG right now is to start understanding the thoughts and processes behind an apology.  It's been an interesting road to travel down, not just within our family, but within the preschool system, the mommy wars, and the Jewish culture.

It all started a long time ago when I read "It's okay not to share, Renegade Rules for Parenting" and learned a little more about saying "I'm Sorry."  If I'm honest I hadn't given it much thought, but I had vivid memories of fights between my parents about those words.  In my mothers world, the fact that I issued the words I'm sorry meant that all was well and good.  In my fathers, those words meant nothing, and did nothing to change what ill I'd done.  With that in mind, I agreed with Heather Shumaker and decided not to force EG to say she was sorry until it meant something and she could understand what the thoughts were behind the words.

Fast forward to EG being in school for a while and she comes home and issues 'sorry's' left and right.  Just a quick little blip on the map, then moving on with her activity and day.  And that's when I really began to feel like Ms.Shumaker was right.  I don't want empty words to placate me.  However, EG had been learning this at school and it's hard to start to undo what was already done there.

So I redoubled my efforts to get EG to offer something other than empty words.  Ice or a hug when she hurt someone, help and a hand when she knocked something over.  But that didn't go over very well on the local playground.  I remember a vivid confrontation with one mother over my daughters lack of an apology.  Mind you, EG helped the boy up, offered him a turn on the swing, and otherwise was a perfect lady when it came to sorting out the problem.  But this mom only answered back with "Aren't you going to say you're sorry?"

Of course, I now realize the problem with that exchange wasn't just about saying it.  It's with a fundamental misunderstanding in our culture today between the words "I'm Sorry" and "I apologize."  These two things are fundamentally different, and this Yom Kippur I'm trying to set the record straight.

The definition of Sorry:

adjective: sorry; comparative adjective: sorrier; superlative adjective: sorriest

feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else's misfortune.


The definition of Apology:

noun: apology; plural noun: apologies
a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

Notice the big difference?  Sorry doesn't acknowledge any wrong doing on the part of the person involved.  It makes no one take responsibility for their actions and acknowledge a failure.  This could be a failure of communication, an accident, or an intentional infraction, but no matter what you caused it, and you should own up to it.

I've vowed this Yom Kippur to go beyond the surface and really get to the root of apologizing.  To teach my children that there is no shame, fear or embarrasment about acknowledging you did something wrong.  And as our children grow up one of the best things they can do as an adult is to accept their own failures, learn from them and move on. The new buzz word of the world is grit, and you can't have grit if you can't own up to your own mistakes.

So we'll be teaching EG a new way to apologize.  Starting with word choice. From now on I say the words 'I apologize' when I mean it, and 'I'm sorry' when it's appropriate. I'm helping EG to correct her word choice to.  And I'm offering up this model for her apologies:

1. I apologize for...
2. It was wrong because....
3. In the future I will...
4. Will you forgive me?
Of course, just because you apologize doesn't mean you get forgiveness.  It can sometimes take more than just a heartfelt apology to rid your heart of the anger or hurt you feel.  And EG has to learn that too.  It's all about the argument between my parents.  My mom was right that when someone truly apologizes that we should accept their apology.  My dad was right that just because you say some words it doesn't mean that my plate isn't broken anymore... Jewish talmud teaches us that you have to apologize three times to someone, to truly mean it before you can consider yourself having apologized properly and moving on without forgiveness.

If we truly see Yom Kippur as an opportunity for apologies and forgiveness then we can all take a step in the right direction this year.  I'm tired of the blanket 'if i did anything wrong, i'm sorry' approach, and I want to teach EG that she's better than that. I also believe that the heart of Yom Kippur honestly isn't about making apoligies, but rather learning to forgive.

I'm hoping that given time she will learn how to take responsibilities for her own actions, own up to the hurt she can cause others with her words and deeds, and then truly take the time to reflect and apologize.  We all know how untempered resentment can build up inside when you feel hurt or taken advantage of.  Hopefully when EG understands the steps to make amends she can make good friendships, be successful in school and work, and have lasting caring relationships.  But that may be too much to put onto one little apology....?



Monday, August 31, 2015

GeltFiend: Because it's really not to early for Chanukah...

I realize that I haven't even talked about where to go for rosh hashana, but when I got my email from geltfiend, I couldn't help but share.

For those of you out of the loop, geltfiend is a great online store that specializes in chanukah wear, specifically kitsch and sweaters.  I talked about then last year when I got the awesome sweaters for EG and me.

This year they've come out with their line even earlier, so you can have your sweater ready the moment the season hits.  My favorite piece...

Candledrip Sweater.

Isn't it awesome!  The colors, the style.  I'm totally in love.  Anyone want to buy me my first chanukah gift?

They also have everything left over from the first two years still available.  The kiddo items are so cute, and I can testify to the quality myself.

Check out the rest of the line, and their new video here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gone, but not forgotten

Hello Friends,

I'm so sorry that I've been out of touch lately.  Between trips and traveling and packing and unpacking, it's been a heck of a month out there.  It's been so hard to settle myself and the family into the new routine here in Orange County, and we're already moving out of one temporary house into another.

I'd hoped to have the launch of something wonderful with you all.  I had a plan. A few weeks of vacation, a nice transition down to the OC, then the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.

But things don't always go as I plan them, do they?

So here we are, the week of my Mother's death one year later.  Here I am, strangely living in her house without her.  Watching my lovely EG get her learning to walk bumps and bruises.

Here's a note to say that I haven't forgotten about you, my internet friends, and I hope to be back to daily and weekly updates very soon.

With love,

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Five tips I'm taking from staging

When we got our house ready to sell we had to get things in order.  That meant clearing out the clutter and really trying to scale back.  In some ways it was bad (I really miss the kids playspace) but in lots of other ways it's been really good.

Here are 5 things I'll continue to do when we finally find our next house...

1. Keep cooking things off the counter. 

This isn't my counter top, (thanks gcmenezes) but it might as well have been.  We kept olive oil, salt, pepper, random spices, vinegar, etc. all on the countertop right next to the stove.  So when we were getting ready to sell all those things had to move up to to the shelf above.

This is my kitchen:

Enter the bright and sparkly, and not cluttered, countertop.  See those hanging shelves down from the upper cabinet?  Those were where my spices are.  Despite these clever storage units there was still a TON of stuff where those flowers are.  Needless to say, my realtor was not a fan- she made me clean it up.  I thought it would really drive me nuts, but it dosen't.  I just put everything in that cabinet above the countertop and put it away when I'm done.  It means a nicer workspace for all of us.

2. Put it away, immediately

I know we've heard this before, but living in a house where at any moment you could get a call from your realtor about someone wanting to stop by really drives the message home.  I wouldn't wish that stress on anyone, but it really puts it in perspective about how the little things (like really finishing a project, or only doing the things you really have time for) can impact your feelings about the house.  With things neat and tidy I had more time to spend scrapbooking, and making messes that I knew

3. Get rid of it.

A huge piece to staging is clearing out the clutter.  From piles of papers to anything else.  It's totally liberating to realize how little stuff you need.  Yes, there are things that I was missing in my life, but honestly, those things are fewer than I thought they might be.  There are tons of things that we just don't need but we own anyways.  And no, I'm not talking about Halloween decor or Maternity clothes, I'm talking about the 6 different random coffee mugs, or the cards from college that you really don't need to be hanging on to.  When you are packing, and prepping the house for sale you realize all the things you just don't need.

4. Toy Rotation/Less Toys

I've always been a fan of this idea, but it wasn't until my kiddos were living with less than a quarter of their toys, both at home most days, and still doing totally fine that I realized my kids are inundated with toys.  We had a whole playspace full of them, in addition to whats here in these photos, and they don't really miss a them almost ever.  Sure there are items they do miss (guitar anyone...?) but over the long haul it's been totally fine.  Paper, a few crayons, playdough and bubbles have kept us happy since EG stopped school in mid-June.

5. Mementos and photos make a house a home

This has been the easiest lesson to learn.  Without the things that make us who we are, it's a sad place to be in.  A house is more than a house- it's a home to you and your stuff.They moved a lot of our photos, and living without touching anything makes it a really stressful way to live.  So bake that bread, hang up that photo, and enjoy living in your home.
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